I’m not especially keen to jump on this bandwagon but I found myself attracted to a familiar dynamic in Caroline Calloway, one I saw once in Anais Nin that is at once maddening but also compelling. Over the past decade I’ve read Anais Nin’s diaries and some of her fiction. The literary relationship has not been one of extreme pleasure but rather it has been sustained by Nin’s inability to be captured into a single idea or ideal. She is ever complicated by the lies she tells to maintain lives and relationships which are vital to her. Her fiction has a lovely poetry to it but it was never her art the way that her life was. There is a type of disdain we have for people who try to make their life into art when we feel betrayed in the process. The phenomenon of influencers is an expansion of this that unfolds as a surreal spectacle that we struggle to distance ourselves from. We wish for singular truths which we can then apply as rules for living but the inherent beauty in Anais Nin and that I see threading through Caroline Calloway as well is that Truth is not a singular law but a multifarious thing which evolves and changes if we are to live any sort of life at all.
It started with Volume 1: 1931-1934. This heady time for Anais was transformational as she made choices which took her out of her life as the unhappy wife of a banker and into the wildly bohemian life in which she would have mythic adventures and become more secure in her own creative voice and vision. There is a poetry to the expurgated versions that is–if not absent is at least undermined in the unexpurgated version where Anais deeper secrets live. But in the duality there is something compelling. Whatever can be said of Anais’ crimes against propriety, if one reads her work without needing it to be a guidebook for how to live, it provides glimpses into vulnerability and truth. The origin of the diaries as letters to her father, as expressions of a need to be loved and accepted is fundamental to the choices she made in later sleeping with said father. I found it easy to forget that Anais grew up in an era before television or the internet. She was a modern woman struggling to find a way to express the many contradictory things that were in her, she looked to art for answers as we still do but discovered that the only way to find answers was to live her truth. It was ugly and messy but also beautiful and sublime at times. She chose to purge her diaries out of loyalty to those in her life who she hoped would not be scandalized. One can argue that there was shame and perhaps this is true but as narcissistic as Anais seems at times she is always more than just that. Her most confessional diaries were written before she ever had a real chance or desire to publish them, they have a rawness that one only shares with a diary and it is miraculous that we have a chance to read the inner most contradictions of a writer who spent an enormous amount of time trying to make sense of her inner world in order to be someone worthy of love.
“Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous. I want to be a writer who reminds others that these moments exist; I want to prove that there is infinite space, infinite meaning, infinite dimension. But I am not always in what I call a state of grace. I have days of illuminations and fevers. I have days when the music in my head stops. Then I mend socks, prune trees, can fruits, polish furniture. But while I am doing this I feel I am not living.”
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934
I say “worthy of love” not because we need to earn love but because it is the feeling one has at times. Anais felt unworthy of her father’s love (he was a real shit but that’s a whole other issue) and abandoned by him and so she spent many years seeking that feeling of love and pursuing it. There are so many times in her diaries that Anais is difficult to love because her honesty reveals all of her poor coping tools and all of her raw humanity. But, I did learn to love her and it wasn’t a love of her despite her actions. At least sixty percent of the time I was shaking my head or arguing with her in my own journal. I had wondered throughout her diary what her two husbands thought of her when they learned the truth of her bigamy. It was one of the most critical questions because in her pursuit of love it was these two relationships that tell us as readers if her ending was a happy one.
In Anais’ most recent unexpurgated volume, Trapeze: 1947-1955, this matter is elucidated and we learn that Hugh had some conception of the truth. Without his account of course it is difficult to know why things continued as they did. However, Anais finally discusses her marriages in further detail. She loved and lived with two men who she found very difficult to live with but who she needed and loved in equal measure. It is easy to look at marriages from these eras and decide that it was a lack of financial empowerment or equality. Those were factors too. But this is where the messiness of the truth becomes stark and should be used as a tool for us to make sense of our own messy lives. Anais loved. She sought love and she sought connection. When she was first married to Hugh they were young and virginal, as they awkwardly tried to connect with each other they fell deeper in love and deeper out of love. These failures and successes fuel Anais’ creative, sensual and sexual life through the end.
Everything in Natalie’s article will be brilliant and beautifully expressed and true. I know this not because I have read her essay but because Natalie is the best writer I know.
I still love her. Our friendship ended 2 years ago, but I still walk around New York sometimes, listening to music, running errands, thinking about her. Amsterdam. I’ll let her tell you about that trip because it put her in danger—not me—so maybe it is hers to tell. Maybe she has custody of that story. Sometimes I all but gag with guilt. Sometimes I write emails to her in my head. Sometimes I imagine a future where we’re friends again! Natalie suffered all the consequences of being loved by an addict and none of the benefits of being loved by the woman that recovery made me into.
I discovered Caroline Calloway due to social media criticism of her workshops. The social media buzz centered around the audacity of her selling her time and failing to produce something slick and well curated. It fixated on the “scam” of her lack of achievement or accomplishment to back up making money in such a way. In this buzz, she herself was never a subject apart from being “an influencer” and as such a reprehensible example of the age we are currently slogging through at lightning speed. These was no critical analysis of her work on Instagram versus any other nonfiction or memoir writer who arguably was doing the same thing in traditional mediums. I became curious about what the workshop really was–it was never discussed what Caroline tried to do, only what she had failed to do and with little citation as to who in fact was disappointed. So, I went to her Instagram at an ideal time for getting to know more about her. I read a few posts and then the Natalie Beach article hit on The Cut. Caroline responded with reposts of old articles and I saw that it was something akin to a public diary in more or less real time. Fiction is the easier type of writing. Within fiction we can weave our stories without owning the truth of them. We can bury the painful pieces within characters who do not otherwise resemble us and we don’t have to own our pain. Fiction allows a writer to place themselves at a distance and thus also keep readers at a safe distance. Memoirs, even those which contain lies, pull the reader into an intimacy which forces us to inhabit our stories and wear them like spiritual tattoos. Caroline is around the same age now as Anais when she became involved with Henry Miller and his wife June, that chapter transformed her creative life and became what is arguably the most defining chapter of her life. There are interesting parallels and I look forward to seeing how Caroline takes a similar passion for confessional intimacy as she moves through the various social media fallouts from her “scammer” identity, her friend’s article and her father’s recent death. I am less interested in the sensational nature than I am in her explorations of her inner world and the outer world.
“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934
When we aren’t writing for an audience we often assume that we are being truthful. In our own minds we are always writing our stories and sometimes we believe them but we are always struggling with the version of ourselves we want to become, the version we are and the dissonance between the two. Caroline is fascinating because she has a vulnerability that she’s willing to share. As a reader we always bring our biases, our experiences and our expectations but we have to also learn how to read critically. We must engage with the text. What I fell in love with in Caroline’s writing is that she treats Instagram as a text to be engaged with. I hate the word scam in this context because it makes us all scammers. We are all struggling to become a version of ourselves while still being the messy other version and living somewhere in the dissonance between the two.